The Power of Positioning for High-Impact Advocacy

Nov 27, 2017

Posted by Joe LaMountain

With hundreds of lobbyists representing clinicians, patients, and the health care industry on Capitol Hill, health care advocates face stiff competition. But many are not using one of the most powerful marketing tools at their disposal: positioning.

By aligning your message with the needs and interests of the people you need to influence, you can stand out from your competition and rally support.

Positioning provides a crucial shortcut to gaining understanding and buy-in. When it’s done right, it can allow you to outmaneuver your opponent before the debate even begins.

Think about it this way: Which is the higher quality car, a Mercedes or a Kia? Do you give your boss a bottle of Veuve Clicquot or André champagne for the holidays? Do you take an important new client to BLT Steak or the Hard Rock Café?

Positioning can establish the same preferences in the minds of your audiences that high-end brands have created. The only difference is that instead of highlighting differences in objective measures of quality, your positioning will likely highlight aspects of your message or product that have strong appeal to your audiences.

That’s why positioning has had a huge impact on public policy. Take taxes, for example. For years, lobbyists tried without much success to kill the estate tax — until they began talking about the “death tax.” Why? Only rich people have an “estate,” but everyone dies.

The repositioned “death tax” is relevant and understandable to all. And it’s profoundly distasteful to many people who may not object to taxing estates, but certainly don’t believe you should have to pay a tax when you die.

Within two years, “death tax” opponents had sharply curtailed the “estate taxes,” and federal revenues from this source fell by more than two-thirds. Nothing about the proposal changed but its positioning.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists discovered the value of positioning in its effort to elevate the value of physician-led anesthesia care. At the time, allowing less-qualified clinicians to lead anesthesia care was gaining ground as a way to cut costs and increase access. Yet audience research showed overwhelmingly — by a margin of 10-to-1 — that policymakers and voters cared more about the quality of anesthesia care than its cost or expanded access.

Seeing an opportunity, the Society repositioned physician anesthesiologists as the protectors of high-quality — and potentially lifesaving — patient care in the operating room. By asserting a position as the owners of the most trusted and effective care, the Society transformed the conversation with elected officials and their staffs, regulators, and the public.